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Record Number of Americans Lack Health Insurance

Trend likely to continue as employers drop coverage, U.S. report finds

TUESDAY, Aug. 29, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- A record-setting 46.6 million Americans were without heath insurance in 2005, up from 45.3 million in 2004, according to a new U.S. Census Bureau report.

"That's an increase of people without health insurance coverage from 15.6 percent in 2004 to 15.9 percent in 2005," David S. Johnson, chief of the bureau's Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division, said during a teleconference Tuesday.

Part of the increase is explained by more employers not offering health insurance, Johnson said. The percentage of Americans with employer-sponsored insurance dropped slightly from 59.8 percent in 2004 to 59.5 percent in 2005. "The number of people with privately purchased plans also decreased," he said.

"The increase in the uninsured rate can be attributed to these two declines," Johnson said.

As for government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, the number of people covered increased from 79.4 million in 2004 to 80.2 million in 2005. However, "the percentage of people covered by government health insurance remained unchanged at 27.3 percent," Johnson said.

From 2004 to 2005, the number of children not covered by health insurance rose from 10. 8 percent to 11.2 percent, Johnson said. Moreover, 19 percent of children in poverty had no health insurance, making poor children most likely to be uninsured, Johnson said.

For non-Hispanic whites and blacks, the uninsured rate remained statistically unchanged from 2004 to 2005 -- 11.3 percent and 19.9 percent, respectively. However, the number of uninsured Hispanics increased from 13.5 million in 2004 to 14.1 million in 2005.

Johnson said the record high in the number of uninsured Americans followed a 12-year period, from 1987 to 1998, when the uninsured rate either increased slowly or was not statistically different from one year to the next. The rate peaked in 1998 at 16.3 percent, then fell for two years to 14.2 percent in 2000. Then it increased until hitting 15.9 percent last year, he said.

Ed Howard, executive vice president of the Alliance for Health Reform, said the new numbers don't auger well for health care in the country.

Referring to the increase in the number of uninsured, Howard said, "Well, it ain't going in the right direction, that's for sure. It appears that most of the increase is due to a decline in employer-based coverage, which is a trend we have been tracking over the last few years," he added.

Howard also noted that this rise in uninsured happened during a period of economic growth. "What this shows us is that a rising tide swamps some boats," he said.

According to Howard, what's needed to fix the problem is the realization by all Americans, including government, business and private citizens, that everyone is entitled to affordable heath insurance coverage. "Over the long term, this means some combination of private and public steps that are going to move us in the direction of broader coverage," he said. "And probably some combination of public and private steps will hold down costs."

Howard added: "It costs incredible amounts in lost productivity and quality of life and competitiveness overseas. It makes economic sense for everyone to be covered. It would cost about $65 billion to cover everyone, and we lose about $130 billion a year because we don't have coverage for everyone."

Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis said in a statement that the new report points "to the need for a national solution to ensure that all Americans have affordable and comprehensive health insurance coverage and access to needed health care. A healthy, productive labor force is an important investment in the economic strength of our nation.

"In the absence of immediate federal action, some states and localities have stepped up with innovative solutions. Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont have enacted laws to move toward universal coverage. Other states have enacted coverage expansions, such as New Jersey's law to raise the age limit of dependents eligible for coverage under their parents' plans. These measures can serve as models for other states, or even the nation, as we seek solutions to the crisis of millions of uninsured," she added.

More information

The Center for American Progress can tell you more about uninsured Americans.

SOURCES: David S. Johnson, chief, Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division, U.S. Census Bureau, Suitland, Md.; Ed Howard, executive vice president, Alliance for Health Reform, Washington, D.C.; Aug. 29, 2006, U.S. Census Bureau report, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2005
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